Thursday, December 27, 2012

Never Enough Time

We are in Ithaca with my family for the first holiday since Taran was born. Until now, we haven't had the guts to attempt the 8 hour drive in the winter with a child who starts vociferously complaining about his car seat 10 minutes into a drive. This year we decided that he was old enough so that, even if we were slowed down by snow, we could talk him through the trip.

I'm so happy to be here and simultaneously so sad at how quickly the time is going. We are all trying to soak up as many cuddles and kisses as we can before we leave, knowing we won't be back for at least another 6 months if not longer. 

Sometimes, living so far away, I worry that he won't feel connected to my family. Won't really remember them each time we come to visit. And then I watch a big smile burst onto his face as he gazes at his Ithaca family and I'm so relieved that my fears are completely unfounded.

When most of the way that my family gets to know Taran is through phone calls, or skype, or emails (or this blog), there are so many subtle nuances of his personality that they don't see.  So one of my favorite things when we visit is to just go through the small moments of our day with them and kick back and watch them soak each other in. 

As I mentioned in my last post, Taran has been enthralled with the Nutcracker. After his bath last night, he insisted on wearing Grammy Pauly's robe. Noticing the way the robe draped on the ground and billowed about his hands, he was struck by it's resemblance to the cape of the magical Herr Drosselmeyer. At once, he began to regale us with his very own dramatic retelling of Act I of the ballet, complete with dancing and singing. We all laughed and laughed and in that moment I felt so proud of his vibrancy, his imagination, his spirit and it felt wonderful to have my mother there to share in it with me.

In May we are expecting our second child. I hope that she is an amazing traveller and we can come home more often. If I could choose one superpower, it would be the ability to teleport my entire family to far-flung spots in the blink of an eye. Barring that, I'll just have to treasure the moments I have and remember that love leaves a deep impression that can carry us through many months in the physical absence of that love.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Sharing a little magic

As a kid, my favorite part of Christmas was decorating the tree, turning on the lights, and then sliding underneath the branches to inhale deeply and gaze up at the sparkling specks of light shining through the deep green needles. Up until now, Taran has been just a little too little to appreciate much about Christmas, but this year is so different. When we first turned on the lights to our christmas tree he threw his arms up over his head and in a rather Tiny Tim-like voice cried out "Merry Christmas". He capered back and forth between the ornament box and the christmas tree, piling snowman, angel, octopus, avocado (yes we have an avocado ornament on our tree. If you know Joe, you know why), all on a single sagging branch. Of course, being the vaguely OCD person that I am, I encouraged him to spread the ornament love equally through the tree while I sneakily did a little rearranging myself.

His pupils seemed to dilate so wide with excitement that his eyes turned into the deepest, darkest night with the lights reflecting like stars.

Another of my favorite things about Christmas is the Nutcracker. I took ballet for years and even performed in it - as a mouse. I recall staring out longingly from the mesh eye holes of my ugly, gray mouse costume at Clara's lovely ringlets and the beautiful mille-feuille tutus of the waltzing flowers. Alas, I never achieved anything more than mouse status in the annual gala. I was more heart than talent, more bony elbows and knees than graceful limbs.

But to this day, whenever I hear the Nutcracker music, I waltz gaily around the house, knocking into chairs and lamps as I spin and leap about. And this is the other bit of magic that I've watched being breathed into Taran. Every night before bed for the last two weeks, Taran and I have snuggled up and watched snippets of the Royal Ballet's version of the Nutcracker and he's loved it. I've always thought of the main character as Clara, but in a book we bought of the Nutcracker, her name is Marie. Taran has been intermittently pretending that he is Clara and Marie and making up all sorts of stories about his day. "Clara is taking a bath", "Baby Marie (aka Taran) had a bonk, but don't worry Mama Marie (me) will scoop him up and kiss him". Aah yes I will little Marie. With relish.
[I love this development in his imaginative play. Throughout the day he transforms into various characters - people he knows and sees every day, characters in books, Yo Yo Ma...]

Every year I try to get him a special ornament that represents something about his growth or his interests. This year was the Nutcracker - not just for this one sharing of a story, but to represent the blossoming of his imaginative life in general.

Rock On

This might be one of those times where a picture really is worth a thousand words. I know the photo is blurry, but somehow that seems to add to the whole rock star quality of it all. He's just so into it. I think he was rocking out to his very own version of "London Bridges" here.

I'm working on a post about decorating our Christmas tree, but couldn't resist just posting this one, quick pic.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Peeeeep, hello little mouse

If there is some Halloween version of Scrooge, that's me. This has always been one of my least favorite holidays and as recently as last night I was debating bagging the whole thing. I'm so glad I didn't.

After some discussion, we decided not to go with the play-doh idea (way too much effort for my sluggish-of-late state) and instead decided to go with a mouse. "Why a mouse?" you say. Well a couple of months ago Jessikah went to get Taran from a failed nap, most of which he spent rolling around his crib shouting out "Peeeeeeeep". When she picked him up from his crib she said "Hello, little mouse". He loved it and it stuck. Now he walks around the house talking about Mama mouse and Papa mouse and little mouse and peeping a lot. So the mouse costume was an obvious choice.

I am not a sewer by any stretch of the imagination, but the fantastic thing about two year olds is that the mere suggestion of a costume is enough to bring sheer joy. So on my husband's encouraging last night at 9 pm (I was still sprawled on the couch reading a spy novel), I drummed up some enthusiasm and sewed a pink oval on to the belly of a grey fleece bought especially for the occasion. Joe gathered some white felt, cotton batting and wire for a tail and in the morning, I hot-glued together the tail and somehow managed to get it to stay on a pair of warm grey sweat pants with a few sloppy stitches. Some eyeliner-whiskers and voila! Mouse costume!

We let him wear his costume to music class this morning and he was more animated than I've seen him there for weeks. For the last seven weeks, every night before music class his sleep has been absolutely horrendous. I call it the curse of the music class. I'm kind of bummed about this because music class is something he absolutely loved to do last year but so far this year he's stayed curled in my lap the whole clase, all pale, bleary-eyed and well, pretty much miserable. I thought last week was bad when he was up for 4 hours in the middle of the night (peeping like a mouse of course) and got a grand total of 8 hours of sleep. Last night he topped that by only getting 6.5. I contemplated skipping it all together this morning but he had the best time. Ever. He ran around the class singing, dancing, laughing, peeping, and showing off his tail to everyone who would listen about it. For his 6.5 hours, I only got three, but his performance even perked me up. All in all, this might have been my best Halloween of all time, thanks to Taran. I'm so glad he's old enough now to get so much enjoyment out of all the holidays!

Trick-or-treating at our neighbors. According to their 9-year old Jack, Taran "is the cutest mouse I've ever seen". 

Bath time for the melty mouse

Friday, October 19, 2012

Sparkle Fantastic

Now that the days have grown colder and it's no longer barefoot weather, we have begun the great shoe n' sock battle in our household. The only shoes Taran has been willing to wear lately are the Croc clogs. You know the ones - molded piece of rubber with multiple holes in the top. Not exactly cool weather shoes. So the other day I had the great idea "take him to the shoe store with me and let him pick his shoes and he'll be so much more willing to wear them". Here's the thing. My plan worked brilliantly. He instantly found a pair of closed-toe shoes that he absolutely adored, put them on all by himself right away and burst into hysterical tears at the mere prospect of them being removed.

What I didn't count on was that the object of his affection would be the pinkest, glitteriest, heart-shaped bejeweled princess shoes you've ever seen. Complete with a bow. And here's the thing...I've dated people with every kind of body part, or lack of body part imaginable. I've always believed it's the person you love, not their parts. And I was totally floored by the pink shoes. Which shocked me more than his wanting them did. I mean hell, I want them. They are sparkle fantastic. And way more exciting then the "proper" brown leather dress up shoe or the navy blue sneaker that I picked out for him.

I guess I was pretty surprised to find that when it came to my son, I was pretty reluctant to step outside of pre-defined, societal gender roles. And I was dreading the judgement that he might get or I might get for his pink shoes. Which contemplating it a minute more just made me pissed. Because if he were a girl and waltzed around in a pair of spider-man shoes, no one would bat an eyelash. So the pink shoes it was. And I have to say, he looked pretty snazzy 5 minutes later running down the supermarket aisles, his pink shoes a-twinkling on his happy little feet.

Later that day, I called my husband to give him a heads up about the shoes. The conversation went something like this:
Joe: I guess that's ok as long as he just wears them at home.
Me: Babe, he's 2! Don't you think he's a little bit young to be imposing gender roles on him. And do you want to be the one to explain why he can't wear the pink shoes?!
Joe: But, I'm concerned about what the other kids will say.
Me: You mean the other two year olds at library storytime might call him a fag?

I feel like I should qualify something here. I don't throw the word "fag" around lightly. I was trying to unveil to my husband whatever unconscious thought people have when they make a judgement that it's ok for girl's to be a tomboy - heck, it might even be considered cute, or as they got older, sexy - but there is almost no tolerance for boys to be anything outside of a very....VERY... rigidly defined definition of BOY. At this point he saw where I was coming from. And when he got home and saw the shoes himself, he got a wry grin on his face and said "I totally get it". Have I mentioned I adore my husband?

I guess I'm bringing this up because it brings up for me a critical part of my parenting philosophy - celebrate who your kid is and give them the confidence to be happy in themselves, even when they don't follow a traditional mold. The pink shoes may be a one time thing, like a fish drawn to a shiny lure. And given that the child is only two, this is almost surely the case. But if in the long run it's not, I would rather be prepared to support my son in his choices. Even if it's uncomfortable. Even if it means that he swims more upstream socially because of it. Because I'd rather give him the tools to deal with other people's judgements from an early age than make him feel like he has to feel ashamed or suppress any aspect of himself. I never understood how to follow a traditional mold. I wasn't the most popular kid in school. But my parents gave me the love and the support to be whoever I was in the world and I'd like to pass that gift on to my son.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Endless Obsession

My son has an ongoing passion, verging on obsession - play dough.

This is my son

This is my son on play dough

I thought the novelty would wear off quickly, but we are going on months now where almost every waking moment, the child must have a sticky, malleable ball of this stuff in hand. "What does he do with it?", someone asked me recently. Well, let's see..... He puts it in/under things, takes it out of/above things. Makes "pancakes" and button-playdough stews. He rolls it into little balls that he stashes in cups or boxes and covers with blankets ("The play dough is tired. It needs a nap. Sshhhhh, don't wake 'em up!" Snoring sounds then ensue). Generally I'm pretty amused and thrilled by this, although I have to admit, I have a list of pros and cons about the subject:

The Cons:
  1. Supply can barely keep up with demand
  2. Multi-colored play-dough confetti distributed throughout every inch of our house.
  3. This stuff is lethal when it dries! Last week I knelt down to pick a book up off the floor and a dried shard of play-dough inserted itself firmly underneath my fingernail leading to a bit of consternation (ok fine, a few expletives)
The Pros:
  1. Cheap if I'm feeling lazy
  2. Even cheaper if I go the non-lazy route and make it myself
  3. Versatile which means endless "scope for the imagination" (as Anne Shirley would say)
  4. HE NEVER GETS SICK OF THIS STUFF!! If I attempt a painting craft project like painting, the project lasts the duration of an average toddler's attention span (i.e. 8 minutes). But make the project play-dough and I have to tear him away from the stuff an hour later for lunch time/nap time/diaper change. 
  5. Thanks to the extended attention span that play-dough induces, I can actually walk away and wash a nearby dish if need be (Gasp!).
  6. Relatively mess free (see points 1. and 2. in the Con section for exceptions to this rule
As you can see, the pros vastly outweigh the cons. A couple of weeks ago I tried a new play dough activity - a large, pile of plain, white, homemade play dough; 3 bowls of food-colored rice; a selection of accoutrements for decorating.

There is something really lovely and soothing about a big mess of uncolored play dough. It gives me a feeling akin to a freshly washed, white down blanket or a thick dusting of newly fallen snow.

This project was definitely one of my favorites and by the focus and the duration of time spent doing it, I think Taran would agree. We broke two of my ceramic bowls in the process and I still have flecks of multicolored rice trapped under the glass of our table, but all-in-all....totally worth it. Just look at this face:

You know he's reeeeeally excited about something when his shoulders hunch up and 2 little pointer fingers come out

I was trying to think of halloween costumes the other day and I was pondering on what were some things that he really liked right now. The best I could come up with was a tub of play dough.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Bad Mama Moment

Do you ever have one of these? Bad Mama moments? I definitely had one this morning. This past weekend we headed up to Cleveland for Nai Nai's 70th birthday. It was really wonderful to be there, but one difficult thing was Taran's interactions with our younger niece who is the same age as Taran. Multiple times over the weekend he would snatch whatever toy she was playing with out of her hand leading to an explosion of tears. Taran would instantly try to repent, forcefully shoving the object back into her hand which would only cause more tears and a very perplexed expression on his face.."but Mama, I tried to do the right thing"... I felt a little bit bad that I had somehow failed on teaching better socialization skills.

So this morning, I made a point of working on "No grabbing" with him. My first brilliant idea was to take a toy I thought he would be interested in and play with it very animatedly in the hope that he would try to snatch it at which point I could dialogue with him about not taking toys others were playing with. Of course, he had zero interest in what I was playing with. So then I attempted to snatch away the toy he was playing with - a little blue wax balloon on a small wooden stick. (Note to self: Never try to teach good behavior by modeling bad behavior. Reeeeeally bad idea). I don't know if the stick scratched him a little as I removed it from his hand or what, but he totally burst into tears and instantly crawled into my lap for comfort. I can't tell you what a big monster I felt like then. I wasn't expecting his reaction at all because he doesn't cry easily. I  thought he'd just get a little miffed and then I could apologize and tell him that I was sorry that I grabbed without asking and that asking would have been the nice thing to do. Sigh. Lesson learned. By me. Needless to say it was really hard to pack up my stuff and leave the house for work ten minutes later. I guess I should be a little bit gentler on both him and myself. Perfection isn't really the goal for either of us, just a willingness to learn from mistakes.

On Saturday morning of our visit, we had a family photographer come to shoot pictures of the extended family. Trying to get two toddlers to stand still in one place, looking in the same direction was a bit like herding cats so I wasn't a big fan of the posed pictures at all, but the photographer also gave us the opportunity to  do some candids with the smaller nuclear families. I shyly grabbed my own camera at this point and tried to snap a few myself and luckily, rather than giving me a disparaging look, the photographer was nice enough to ask me about my camera and give me some tips on how to shoot in the early morning light. I wish I could have shadowed him all morning. Here are a couple of shots I got of the girls and Uncle Matt:

I tried to get some of Taran as well all dressed up, but he wasn't too game. He had some sort of tummy bug this weekend (projectile vomiting in the carseat one exit from Cleveland, explosive diarrhea in his crib at nap time) so he wasn't feeling overly cooperative and definitely wanted lots of extra snuggles. I did get this one though which I think captures how fragile he was feeling that day.

Ack. Sometimes I feel such an incredible pang of love when I see him that it's like having a sucking chest wound.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Children's Garden - Ithaca trip Part II

Hello blog! I've missed you!! I've been so swamped with work that I haven't had a chance to revisit my Ithaca trip and by now, I've forgotten half the things I wanted to say. And in the meantime all sorts of other potential posts - zoo trips, colorful craft projects, recipes for toddlers - are falling by the wayside. This makes me a bit sad because one of the driving motivations for the blog was to document Taran's growth for: a) my family, and b) myself. The last is especially important because I have a lousy memory (total spaghetti strainer people) and a complete inability to keep a journal (something about the double whammy of needing to have follow-through AND organizational skills absolutely stymies me).

Tonight I'm putting aside work because I'm feeling a bit disgruntled with it and I need some time for more creative ventures. And I need a few smiles. Which looking at my recent trip certainly provides. So let's see.... in my last post I got through only 1.5 days of our ten day trip. At that rate I would need another 6 posts at least to cover everything. So let me talk about a few highlights from the trip.

Photo Credit:

On the second day, we met up with my Dad and step-Mom at the Ithaca Children's Garden and I fell so in love with the place. If my essence could be distilled, and grown into a garden, I think the garden would look like this. It was whimsical (a little straw bale house with a sod roof called "The Troll House"), wild (prairie flowers and wildflowers), creative, rambling, a little slipshod (a "greenhouse" with walls made of 2-liter soda bottles strung up on bamboo poles), and very ecologically minded. Their philosophy is to "connect children with nature in playful ways". This actually resonants very deeply with me and is part of my grand master plan of what I hope to do with myself professionally in the next couple of years (more on that at some future juncture). If I could set up a cot and a camp stove in the Troll House and move in tomorrow I'd be in bliss.

We were all equally as pleased with the sites and Taran ran and laughed and jumped and squealed with absolute delight. He's such a lucky guy to have three different sets of grandparents to love him up and I get a kick out of seeing his unique relationship with each one.

By the side of the road, there were a series of colorful flags blowing in the wind and Taran thought they were the best. Ever. This picture cracks me up because it looks like Taran is in super-speedy motion, running in mid-air with the sign behind him warning to keep at 15 mhp:

I don't know if you noticed, but Taran is wearing his Darth Vader shirt in the above pictures. Which brings me to my favorite part of the morning. Two small boys, slightly older than Taran were playing together when Taran came whizzing towards them on one of his mad capers. Upon seeing his shirt, the older cried out "Aaaaah it's Darth Vader. Ruuuuuuun!". The younger brother quickly chimed in and off they want. Taran had no clue what all the hubbub was about, but he was perfectly willing to join in the fun, so he careened after them squealing and chortling. Which of course made the boys run and yell some more. I regret to say that I have not a single photo of this glee because I was too busy laughing my A*@ off [insert expletive here] to snap a picture.

Another highlight of our trip was seeing Auntie Anna swim across Lake Cayuga for "Women Swimmin'". Anna is an incredibly passionate and powerful woman in every sense of the word and I was so proud of her for this accomplishment and also for participating in such an important community event. This annual swim raises a significant chunk of the budget for the local Hospicare, which provides palliative care for people who are dying. It was pretty awe-inspring to see the waves of women - all shapes, sizes, ages - swimming the 1.2 miles across the cold, deep waters in the early hours of the morning. I was moved to tears by the moxie of the women and the community spirit which brought hundreds of friends, family, and supportive spectators out to cheer the women on as they came in to the final stretch where we waited with warm blankets and even warmer hugs.

Oh man, I feel like I'm probably hitting the limit of people's attention span and I haven't even begun to tell all the stories. Ok. Last one. Monica and Trevor's farm. This was another early morning trip when the fog was still clinging to the hills and the sun was low in the sky. Monica was my roommate my last year of graduate school and I absolutely adore her. She and her husband are raising their toddler son on an organic vegetable farm and in her spare time, when she's not running the CSA for her husband, she's a full-time middle-school teacher of students with disabilities. If I had 1/10 of this woman's energy and initiative I'd be really well off in life. 

The highlights for Taran were definitely the beautiful horses and Hummel the rabbit.

I have to admit, I'm a little (ok, a lot) scared of horses (big bodies, little brains). As it turns out, they are capable of fairly complex problem solving and understanding of social structure so my impressions are erroneous. But no one ever said that fear was rational, right? Anyway, I digress. My point is that while I was hovering a few feet back "Just so I can get some good pictures, you know", Taran was right up in the mix, absolutely fearless. I envy that quality in him. He loved feeding the horses and could have stayed there all day.

The only thing that could tempt him from leaving the horse pen was the prospect of hugging the soft bunny waiting for him inside.

I'll sign off for now and the rest of the memories will have to be sent off to the ethers where all old memories go to die, maybe to be resurrected, a little worse-for-the-wear when I pore back over old photos.

As a parting moment, here I am with Taran waiting for the Women to swim into shore: